Forget Madonna on Crook & Chase. Or Michael Jackson chatting with Oprah. The Comeback Attempt of the Month award should go to Kathleen Turner. One of the top actresses of the '80s, now on the verge of joining Jill Clayburgh in deep career limbo, Turner has agreed to star in John Waters' black comedy Serial Mom, which begins shooting in Baltimore on April 12.
''She's a great actress and a real movie star,'' says Waters (Hairspray), whose past leading ladies have been more along the lines of Divine and Deborah Harry. The king of kitsch originally envisioned Serial Mom to be a low-budget true-crime parody starring Julie Andrews, Mary Tyler Moore, or Tuesday Weld as a cozy suburban mother who loves her kids so much that the friends they complain about have a habit of disappearing. Columbia Pictures asked Waters to consider ''higher casting.'' But the studio and Waters could never agree on the right star at the right price.
Jessica Lange, Sally Field, and Tracey Ullman were all considered, but the studio wanted Susan Sarandon for less money than her agency, ICM, was demanding. Columbia wouldn't meet Turner's price either, suggesting comedians Goldie Hawn and Chevy Chase instead not the kind of ''straight'' casting Waters had in mind. ''Everything Columbia said translated to one thing,'' says Waters. ''Stall.'' (A Columbia spokesman refused to comment.)
After Columbia finally declined to make the picture, Serial Mom bypassed two other interested studios and landed new player Savoy Pictures, which was only too happy to pay $3 million for Turner. Savoy gets a star and a relatively inexpensive ($13 million) movie. And Turner may have finally found the right post-V.I. Warshawski commercial vehicle to give her back her bankability. (Her next picture, the downbeat psychological drama House of Cards, while well received at the Sundance Film Festival, is unlikely to play to a wide audience.) Turner is more than ready to return to the kind of bad-girl role that made her famous in such pictures as Body Heat, Prizzi's Honor, and The War of the Roses. As she says, ''I've been good long enough!''